It is never a shock to any of us when we get hurt on the job. We know very well the hazards of our career choice. It is rare to hear of an officer who was able to navigate a 20-plus year career without filing a workers’ compensation claim. These days, we are more at risk of contracting COVID while performing our daily duties. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being hurt or becoming ill, here are some things to consider.
These days, we are more at risk of contracting COVID while performing our daily duties.
No matter how minor the injury, report it as soon as reasonably possible. If the injury does not require medical treatment, simply complete a memo detailing what occurred and submit it to your supervisor. It will remain in your division/bureau/precinct file for one year. During that time, if the injury progresses such that medical treatment becomes necessary, then an industrial packet will be completed.
Injuries that require medical treatment, obviously, will have an associated industrial packet filled out immediately. I recommend completing the entire packet if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, even if you had the mildest of symptoms, and you can reasonably associate the exposure to your official duties. The long-term effects of this disease are relatively unknown. Should you find yourself suffering from some side effects years from now, you will be covered.
I want to dispel an old wives’ tale that I believed to be true for most of my career — the idea that when you get injured, you must go to Concentra one time. I, like most of you, heard this over and over from co-workers and supervisors. It wasn’t until I began working daily with injured colleagues that I found that it was not the case. The City does reserve the right to have you evaluated by a medical professional of their choosing if they believe your doctor’s assessment or treatment plan seems out of whack. Otherwise, you are free to choose the doctor you trust most with your care and recovery. Remember, once you see a doctor for the second time, they become your doctor of record. If you decide later that you want a different health provider, you must first seek approval from CCMSI — the third-party administrator of the City’s workers’ compensation program — before seeing them.
Another thing to be keenly aware of is the timeline to report an injury set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS). ARS §23-1061 states that you have one year to file a claim for an injury. “The time for filing a compensation claim begins to run when the injury becomes manifest or when the claimant knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know that the claimant has sustained a compensable injury.” In other words, if symptoms or diagnosis of an injury do not manifest or occur for many years, it would still be able to be claimed. The date of diagnosis or onset of symptoms becomes the date of the injury. This is common with PTSD injuries.
Something to be very cognizant of is your work status document. Your doctor will be required to complete this document for the City. If your doctor wants you to recuperate at home, then that needs to be reflected with the words “no duty” on it. Anything other than “no duty” is confirming your ability to work a modified assignment, aka transitional duty. If your doctor prescribes narcotic pain killers, do not assume that you will be able to stay home due to the “do not drive” advisement on the prescription bottle. As ludicrous as it sounds, the City will require you to report to work, even under the influence of a prescription narcotic. The City, time and time again, has told injured employees to get a ride from a family member, friend, Uber, Lyft or even a city bus to get to work. Remember, “no duty” is a key phrase.
Another important aspect of an industrial injury is that each covered injury has 2,080 hours (equivalent of one year) attached to it. What this means is that if you are unable to work because of the injury, workers’ compensation pays a portion of your salary, and the City will supplement the remaining portion for the duration of the injury, or up to 2,080 hours. That 2,080 hours also covers follow-up appointments and any physical therapy that is prescribed. If you exhaust that bank and continue to need time off for appointments, you will have to use BI, BV or BC time. If you can work light duty, I would encourage you to take advantage of it even if it is in callback to preserve that bank of hours. You may need to tap into them later if the claim needs to be reopened.
If you receive a bill for services rendered during this process, whether it is a doctor’s bill, an ambulance bill or an emergency room bill, it is of the utmost importance that you call your adjustor, City Safety staff or me so we can ensure that the “bill to” gets changed from your name to the City of Phoenix. We have had several instances where this has not occurred, and officers have thrown away the bill with the assumption that “It’s workers’ comp, I don’t need to worry about this.” In such cases, the bills have ended up in collections and, subsequently, on individual credit reports. Understandably, this is very frustrating for the officer. The City typically receives a discount on the bill if it is paid within 15 days, so the sooner they know about it, the better it is.
My hope is that none of you have to navigate the workers’ compensation waters. The reality is that many, if not most, of you will. Issues will arise, but know that we (PLEA) will help you any way we can.
This article is only intended to cover the highlights of the workers’ compensation process. Operations Orders 3.7.3 explains the process at length. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact Tracy Hamilton in the City Safety Department at (602) 534-9530 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact me for assistance. I am always available at the PLEA Office or by email at email@example.com.